Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Always Learning

Good morning!!  Had a big powwow with a very tech savvy friend last night, who has taken me under her wing in helping me improve my blog.  You will be seeing lots of changes here soon, and I invite your feedback, ideas and insights.  I am not a natural computer tech; I grew up without them, had to use them very little to graduate from college - yeah, I used a typewriter - and at this point, feel pretty proud of myself when I can successfully upload pictures!  But my friend has opened my eyes to the power that this medium has in distributing ideas, and I am more than willing to evolve and learn in order to maximize the potential I have in adding my voice. I owe it to the horses, and horse people, that I care about.

I am always in awe when the right person shows up in my life at the right time to teach me something.  My techie friend walked in to my life at exactly the right moment, not just because she can help me with my blog, but also because she is inspiring, strong, smart, and has a life that is similar to mine in many ways.  I relate to her, and am willing to let her lead me in a new direction, to do something I have never done, nor felt that I could do - definitely outside my comfort zone.  This has happened to me before, and I have been told that I have been that person for other people, but no matter how many times it happens, I am always thankful, but slightly shocked and amused when serendipity/the universe/God brings me the exact right thing at the exact right moment.  Even things that are negative can lead us to great things, new friends, and open doors.  Recent events in my life and in the reining world have shown me that you can find incredible support and wonderful, dear friends in the midst of a hurricane.  I shouldn't be surprised - as my friend said last night, "That's how it is supposed to be!"  but then again, I still have a lot to learn in life.  I hope I am always trying to learn something new, pushing my comfort zone outward every chance I get.

Hope you all have a wonderful day!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Leggo Your Ego

There are some occupations in which ego is necessary, or at least acceptable, to get the job done, such as being a rock star or a NFL quarterback or a pro boxer or some other kind of dragon slayer. We expect people who do those things for a living to be full of themselves and extremely confident in their actions. Not that that type of egotistical lifestyle doesn't do a person harm in the long run, but while they are performing, we get it and accept it.

However, ego has no place on the back of a horse. We cannot sit in the saddle to make ourselves bigger and more powerful, exerting power over an animal, forcing them to do our will. Being there is a GIFT. There is no other relationship on Earth like that between a rider and their mount; a large, powerful animal that allows us to ride on its back, manipulate its body, shape and dictate its movements, defer its wants and needs for our own, and in general, not stomp us into the dirt when it so easily could. Riding a horse, and training a horse, is a privilege and an honor. It is quite apparent to me that many horse trainers nowdays have forgotten this.

Take for example the rumor that I recently heard - that a prominent NRHA trainer is circulating a petition to have warm-ups at reining events closed to the public. What does this say about their methods? If they are so reliant on questionable means to achieve the ends, which is a winning run, those methods are not fit to be used on the horse. The public absolutely has the right to know these things and to observe the questionable methods, but due to some big-time trainers' egos, they would have the public locked out in order to continue to treat the horse abusively and disrespectfully. Every horse competition we go to should be a celebration of these amazing animals, NOT a orgy of self-congratulation for trainers that make way too much money, hiding their coercion and forceful methods behind closed doors. They have apparently forgotten WHY they are there. Shame on them!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Only Thing We Have To Fear...

Good morning!! Had a fantastic conversation with a good friend two nights ago, and it got me thinking about how we process fear. Let me give you some background...

My friend Chris and I have been best buds since third grade, and share a common history of horses. We showed together in 4-H, local shows and on our high school equestrian team. We have also spent countless hours riding together for fun, discussing horses, breeding, training methods, showing, etc (and have had our share of conversations about guys, family, kids and all that stuff too!!). She has always been a fantastic rider, one that I respect very much. Not only has she won awards in the show ring, she is handy and cool-headed, balanced and strong, and I always thought....fearless.

But a couple years ago, Chris was riding a young filly that she was starting, and the horse dumped her. Hard. She layed on the ground, trying to catch her air, thinking, "I have kids! I have things to do! What if I get hurt?" And even though she recovered, and began to ride again, the seed of fear had crept into her heart.

I myself had a similar incident. Several years back, I was riding a training horse, loping along in an arena at a boarding stable where my clients kept their horse. The arena needed dragging very badly, but it didn't occur to me that I shouldn't ride. I was invincible, or just ignorant. Anyway, we were going along, having a great time, when this mare tripped and fell. BOOM! I torqued my arm and shoulder quite badly, but was able to get back on, and gingerly finish the session. My shoulder has never been the same, nor has my bravado. A couple of years after that, I stopped riding for two years to have two babies, and when I decided to start riding again, the fear of falling was enough to send me into a cold sweat. Every tiny stumble nearly stopped my heart. I had ridden my whole life, but honestly wondered if I would be able to ever ride again.

Slowly, slowly both Chris and I have been making our way back. The first thing to do was acknowledge how we were feeling. We talked to each other, and other friends, about how the falls we took knocked us down physically, mentally and emotionally. Then we started riding horses that were trustworthy and tolerant. I can't stress this part enough. When you are feeling uncertain or downright fearful, that is NOT the time to take on an unstarted baby or even a broke horse with attitude problems. Find a horse that will wait on you and not be so quick to react to the fear in you that they will inevitably sense. And then, just get out there and put in the miles. Take your time, and go easy on yourself. Forgive yourself if you make a mistake or have to get off to gather your emotions. This isn't a race or a competition! Also, listen to your gut instinct; if it tells you that a situation is too much for you, get out or get off right away. Better to look cautious than to stick it out and get yourself, your horse, or someone else hurt. Human fear has a way of compounding our horse's emotions, and something that you might be able to handle just fine on a confident day could turn into a real train wreck if your horse senses that you are afraid.

More than anything, continue to talk about it. You will be surprised how many people feel the exact same way, but are too embarrassed to speak up. Give each other support, positive reinforcement, and a safe place to work through the situation. Before long, you will see yourself getting braver and taking on new challenges.

As for Chris and I, we are both doing very well; we have taken on training horses, and ride on a nearly daily basis. We are still working on things, and while we may not ride like the bold 18 yr olds we once were, I think we both appreciate what we can do, and understand our strengths in the saddle. Occasionally, we may hesitate to push our horses, in the worry that we might get hurt again, but at this point in the journey, I think that it is less "fear" and more "prudence."

Happy trails, and have a fantastic day!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Made for TV

In the past ten years, the horse industry has seen the rise of a new type of horseman - the Clinician. Doing clinics has always been a training tool used by both well-known and unknown horsemen, however the advent of internet technology, as well as new agricultural television networks such as RFDTV has made this training medium much more accessible. Not only can you attend a clinic in person, you can watch it on TV, or purchase DVDs that outline the Clinician's entire training program. Along with those options, you can purchase training equipment such as 'sticks', special halters, headstalls, saddlepads, saddles, support boots, etc. all with your favorite Clinician's stamp of approval right on them.

There is some good that has come out of this movement. It has empowered many people to get outside and work with their animals with a do-it-yourself, git-r-done type of attitude. Most of the time, the animals are treated well, and are trained humanely. I also think that this movement has probably saved many horses that were previously untrainable, by breaking down horse training step by step and giving the horse a chance to do the right thing and be rewarded for it. Most Clinicians have outgoing, charming personalities that invite people in and inspire them to try harder and step outside of their comfort zone.

I do not personally subscribe to anyone in the herd of Clinicians. I rarely see anything new being demonstrated, but instead, lots of gimmicks being spun on the same old principals. Also, so many things that are being drilled to death in clinics have no real world use. While it may be a fun challenge to get out a huge rubber ball and push it around the arena, and teach your horse not to spook at it, how does that apply to competing on your horse? Getting your horse to collect, give its face, or take the correct leads? I was always taught, "Whatever you want to do with your horse, that is what you need to work on." Sounds simple, huh? If your show pleasure horse isn't interested in pushing a rubber ball while side-passing, what does it matter? If your hunter jumper doesn't like dragging a noisy tarp around the arena, why get yourself killed trying to get him to do it? Work on that which you intend to do.

If you are worried that your horse is tense or spooky or resistant, work on bending, flexing, and collection first. If you are fully in control of your horse's entire body, he will be easier to control no matter what you face out there in the big scary world. But bending, flexing and collection are NOT great subjects for televised clinics - they simply do not make good TV. It is more exciting to get an untouched, unhandled mustang to jump over barrels or lay down. THAT sells DVDs, and all that other stuff. Yes, yes...I know that most Clinicians love horses. But please realize that there are some out there making millions off of impressing people with dramatic equine feats, with the hopes that they will literally buy into the dream that they can go home and 'whisper' to their horses and see the same dramatic results.

What is more realistic is to simply BE CONSISTENT. Be consistent in how often you work with your horse - daily or several times a week. Be consistent with your expectations. Be consistent with your cues. Be consistent with your rewards and discipline. Be consistent with your methods - most non-coercive, non-painful methods will work eventually if you just BE CONSISTENT. You don't need any fancy equipment or an overpaid TV Clinician to get you where you want to go - it is within yourself. And if you have a serious problem with a horse, save yourself time, risk and the hundreds (and thousands) of dollars in DVDs, clinic entry fees and equipment, and send the horse to a local, well-recommended professional. There are some problems that simply cannot be worked out in a made-for-TV format, and require true hands-on experience to accomplish without someone getting hurt.

Happy trails - have fun out there!!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Long Term Relationships

Our neighbor and friend Connie had to put her sweet old horse Skip down over the weekend. Skip was 30 years old, and got down on the ground and couldn't get back up. Connie had owned him since he was a baby, and loved him dearly. I know that Skip lived a long, good life, and yet, that really isn't a good consolation in the immediate time after his passing. It is devastating to lose a horse that you have had that long, no matter how great they had it while they were alive. Knowing that putting them down is the right thing to do isn't a consolation either; they are still absent from your life and the pasture. Even in their old age, it is comforting to look outside and see them standing there, nibbling grass or napping in the sun, or go out and scratch them, and give them kisses.

The fear and anticipation of losing one of my own old horses isn't far from my mind ever. My Jake will turn 33 in July, Jazz is 28, Brandy is 25 and Bam Bam is 20. Obviously, you can lose a horse at any age, but the likelihood of health problems goes up significantly after the age of 20. How does a person prepare their heart and soul to face the loss? I am trying to figure this out. I want to take comfort in the fact that we take good care of them, that they could all easily live well into their 30s, and that they have had so much love while in my care. But the fact remains; I will have to say good bye. I may have to make a tough decision to put them out of misery. I will have to explain to my kids what happened to them. I will wake up one morning to a pasture that looks empty in their absence.

One thing does give me comfort and strength. To love is to risk the pain of loss. I know that by feeling the deep pain of losing each of my horses, that the capacity that I have to love is deepened, broadened, made more crystalline. My capacity to love and sacrifice for them is what defines my humanity, gives me character, and connects me to other animals, and humans too. I know that the experience of owning a horse for so many years makes me a better person. So, when the day comes that I have to let one go, if you ask me,"would you go through it all again?" the answer will be a resounding, "Yes!! Yes, of course!!"

Friday, June 17, 2011

Husbands and Horses

"You love that horse more than you love me!!" How many horsey girls out there have heard that one? I certainly have! And it always was a great big red flag, that the relationship was doomed, that I would soon have to choose, and that my guy just didn't 'get it.' Many men in my life have insisted on being the center of who I was, and wanted to be the thing that I focused the majority of my time on. And over and over, I had to set them straight, which inevitably led to the end of the relationship.

You see, my love of horses has always been the force that moves my life. When I first learned to speak, one of my first words was 'horse.' When I learned to walk, I carried around a Breyer (Secretariat) all the time. Growing up, I spent hours and hours with my horses, and a huge chunk of my time away from the barn studying them, reading about them, talking about them. They have always been my lifeline, the way I look at the world, the way I cope and the way I celebrate.

And even more importantly, they are my family. My horse Jake is about to turn 33, and I have owned him since he was 4. My horse Jazz is 27, and I have owned him since he was 2. Several other horses have been with me their entire lives. When I spend time with my horses, it isn't all "Weeeeee!! I am off riding and having a grand ol' time!!" It is about my responsibility to them. I am dedicated to keeping them safe and healthy and making sure that they aren't separated or face any type of pain or neglect. If I had to get rid of them, not only would I lose my best friends, I would lose myself, and would be wracked with guilt and pain beyond measure. How could a man ask me to choose?

Well, thankfully, I found a man who didn't. My husband Matt is every horsey girl's dream. We met when I was 28, and at the time, I was working a day job at a private jet company, and he was a drummer with a well-known, touring band, so he was home during the day. After only a couple of weeks of dating, he called me up at work and asked, "Would you mind if I went over and cleaned your stalls?" Ummmmm, HELLO! "Sure, that would be great!!" Haha! Matt grew up in a family that did not keep pets and so he was hungry to be around them, learn about them and supported my love for them. I think that he needed them in his life and just soaked up everything that I (and the horses) had to teach him. We got married a year later, and in our 13 years together, he has learned to ride, groom, start them under saddle, tend to wounds, trim their feet, has been present for foaling and helped with imprinting, and has been working for several years as a horse and cattle feed specialist for a large feed distributor. While he does occasionally have complaints about how much work they are, he never asks me to choose, and I am quite certain that he "gets it." I am so lucky to have someone who will go out and feed when it is below zero outside (I am useless in the cold), understands why we must spend so much money and time on our animals, or can be trusted to help the vet attend to a horse when I am not available. Though it was heartbreaking to lose those other relationships to the dreaded horse jealousy that always seemed to come up, I know that I was being led to someone who loves me, along with all my horsey attachments, unconditionally.

If you have a great horsey husband, wife or significant other in your life, I'd love to hear about them!!

(PS -Matt and I now have two kids, and even though they are now at the top of the totem pole, the horses are still so important to both of us. I hope that it teaches my kids the meaning of love, dedication and commitment.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Staying Awake

Borrowed from a friend: "It's painful to face how we harm others, and it takes awhile. It's a journey that happens because of our commitment to gentleness and honesty, our commitment to staying awake, to being mindful." I think that you could substitute the word "horses" for "others" and this quote would easily fit the horse world.

Millions of horses, over the course of history, have been hurt by man; some for food, for war, for commerce, or for sport. The relationship between horse and man is a long one and fraught with domination and coercion; so much so that many people are numb to the pain inflicted on equines, whether it be outright or subtle, whether the pain is perpetrated by angry, ignorant teenagers or by a highly esteemed professional, sometimes even if the abuse happens right in front of them. It isn't easy to acknowledge that we have done wrong, or that we made a mistake that cause an animal pain. How do you apologize to a being that is at your mercy, and cannot accuse or blame or even explain?

It is easier to turn away, using the excuse of 'minding my own business,' rather than taking the uncomfortable, difficult stand and risk being ridiculed or embarassed. It is easier to believe that it is someone else's responsibility to stand up. It is easier to explain away one's own actions as 'necessary to win,' or 'the stupid horse was being bad, so I had to set him straight.'

There is a change happening, though; a wave of humane feeling that has emboldened many to take a stand and speak for the horse. More people are taking it upon themselves to be gentle, honest, awake and mindful. More people are looking at the things they have always done, and re-evaluating their ethics. Never before in its history with man has the horse had so many friends willing to defend it. And this comes at a critical time. The wild horse's right to be free is at risk. The fight to abolish slaughter continues. The recession has left thousands of horses unwanted, unfed, uncared for. Within competitive circles, the drive to win causes racehorses to be drugged, show horses to be whipped and sored, reining and dressage horses to be hyper-flexed, and jumping horses to be poled. The horse needs as many friends as it can get!

So let's try to remember the divine wonder each of us had as children, when we sat on a horse's back for the first time, and could appreciate the amazing power, combined with the supreme gentleness, that the horse possesses. Let's stay mindful and awake, and always vigilant for ways to make the horse's life better. Let's EVOLVE.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Good Karma

Hello!! And Happy Wednesday!! While out for my pre-dawn ride this morning, watching the sun peek out, listening to the birds, breathing the cool, clean air deeply and fully appreciating the fact that I was able to enjoy those sights from horseback, I contemplated the 'must win' mentality that takes over certain horse trainers, and the lengths it pushes them to push their horses.

I have been there; not too many years ago, I traveled the US and Canada with my family in pursuit of Regional and National wins. We spent a lot of time and money in this pursuit, and certainly, there was pressure to win and make all that investment pay off. But an overriding, deep, and all-encompassing love of our horses kept our activities well within the boundaries of that which would be considered ethical. Not that we didn't wear spurs, or carry crops, or occasionally have to 'get after' a misbehaving mount, but my parents and trainers would never have allowed me to cause a scene or treat my horses badly, and I knew it, as that was a reflection of them as well. Thankfully, I had wonderful trainers, who made it clear that good horsemanship wasn't about coercing my horse, but rather, figuring out what the horse needed to be better, and I tried very hard to give them whatever that was. I realized at an early age that the best performances where the ones in which the horse felt good, and was doing what came naturally to them. In giving our horses our very best, we got back the very best of them.

I have seen, over the course of my lifetime in horses, many trainers/riders/owners who wanted to take shortcuts in training, use punitive, abusive methods to coerce the horse, and so many who have tried to get around the rules in order to get a leg up on the competition. Almost all of them eventually were exposed for these things, and had to face the music. They may have lost customers, lost their businesses, been sanctioned by their breed associations, had awards taken back, and had lawsuits made against them. I truly believe that if you do bad things, people will find out. Maybe not immediately, but the truth will come out. And nowdays, with video cameras on every phone, and the capability to easily upload those videos to the internet, the truth can be accessed by millions of people, within mere minutes. No amount of blue ribbons, titles, earnings or awards can prevent it. The comeuppance is much more immediate.

So now, more than ever, trainers/riders/owners have to ask themselves - am I producing good karma or bad karma? NOT "am I producing a money-earning horse or a National or World Champion?" But, instead, am I doing what is RIGHT and GOOD while still striving to give the horse world my best performance? We all want to win - it is glorious! - but is it worth the fall, the embarrassment, and the potential financial ruin if the win was obtained by less-than-ethical means?

Monday, June 13, 2011

What am I doing here??

Life is a crazy journey, and because I am the mother of two little boys, sometimes, I swear that it moves at the speed of light. I had attempted to write a blog early last year, and it just didn't hook me. I had so much to do in any given day; taking care of my kids and keeping their lives interesting, keeping my herd of eleven horses healthy, working my training horses and giving lesssons, maintaining my marriage, my house, my relationships with friends and family...I didn't have time to sit down and write more than a sentence or two on my Facebook page, and writing my blog just didn't fit in. I realize now that I wasn't writing a blog, but rather, articles, and also that life ebbs and flows. Sometimes things fit, sometimes they don't.

My kids are now 5 and 4, and are capable of safely entertaining themselves for short stretches of time (I hope!! haha!), and I have sold a couple of my horses - two that were young and required much more attention - and life seems to be at a 'smooth' point. Perhaps even more important is the fact that I feel more confident in where I am, and who I am. I have come out of the most isolated period of my life - the young childhood of my kids - to find that I have wonderful, supportive friends. Some of those relationships are very old, from my own childhood, and some are brand new. But thankfully, they all see me as I am, accept me and want to hear what I have to say. Sooooo encouraging. I am recognizing my own voice again.

So what am I doing here? Well, some recent controversial events in the horse industry have lit a fire within me. The past few years I have felt pushed out of the industry that I have lived in my entire life. After spending every moment of my life working toward being a successful trainer, breeder, instructor and showman, achieving awards and accolades along the way, it all fell apart (or so it seemed). The economy tanked, my husband and I moved to rural Kansas from urban Phoenix to be closer to family, and I was suddenly the mother to two babies - blessings to be sure, but definitely something that put horses down the list of priorities. But after the recent events that have rocked my favorite horse sport, reining, I realized that I wasn't ready to bow out just yet. That I wasn't ready to watch my sport be ruined by people in it only to make a buck, and who cared little about making it better. I realized that by remaining silent, I was, in fact, allowing those who would hurt the sport, and it's horses, to win.

Most importantly, I realize that writing is validation for who I am as a person. After being bullied and intimidated by a powerful trainer's wife, who would like to see insignificant little me squashed like a bug, I felt an inferno being lit inside my heart! I love horses, and I love reining, and don't feel that those are mutually exclusive. You CAN win in the show ring without making your horses miserable, or breaking the rules. I also believe that judges, stewards, exhibitors and spectators have a simple, but incredibly important, first priority - to do right by the horse. I have always tried to speak for the horse, who has no voice, and have been blessed with a horsey intuitiveness that guides who I am as a horseman. Doing what is right for the horse is what my inner compass is set to, and the place from which I will write. So thank you, Ginger, for being as mean as you are. You have lit a fire that I feared was nearly out. ;)

Enjoy your day, my friends!!